From Black Prison To New Branch of The Houston Museum of Natural Science

The Houston Museum of Natural Science is opening a new branch in Fort Bend County; the 43,000-square-foot HMNS at Sugar Land will open in October in a "historic prison building," according to the museum's official announcement.

The new facility sounds nice -- four permanent exhibits mirroring the most popular ones at the main Houston branch, and a rotating series of other stuff -- but it was the prison aspect that drew our interest.

It turns out the building and grounds used to be the "Negro Prison" back in the not-so-good ol' days.

"Between 1939 and 1968 the Main Unit housed mostly African-American inmates distributed among nine wards called "tanks" which were located on the first and second floors of the structure," HMNS's Carolyn Sumners tells Hair Balls.

The facility was called "Two Camp" and was used as a setting in the cult film Powder.

The main unit of the camp will be where the museum is housed; when it was a prison it housed "administrative offices, solitary confinement cells, laundry facilities for officers, an interior picket area for monitoring prisoner movement, a small school house, kitchen, a dining hall, a small
infirmary, a theater and a stage," Sumners says.

A theater and a stage? Doesn't sound like hard time to us. And there's more, she says:

Saturdays at Two Camp included school in the School Room, movies and talent shows in the second floor auditorium. The movies were popular films of the period. Saturday night recreation also included coffee and Juice-O, an alcoholic beverage that may have been made by the inmates. (still researching).

Give me some of that Juice-O!

When they weren't watching movies and getting drunk, the inmates -- living up to every Texas prison cliche possible -- grew and harvested cotton.

So, when you visit the new museum this fall, be sure to keep your senses open to the ghosts of black prisoners that no doubt still haunt the place.

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